Monthly Archives: June 2011

Can Jews Go Camping (not at the Hilton)?? Hashem says: No way.

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Modern Man: Jews Don’t Camp

When the idea occurred to us to go camping–to pack up our three kids, all under 5, and one under 5 months–not only the Jews thought we were nuts. But it was the Jews who were bewildered. Since the big camping trip–you know, with Moses and Tzippy and, if you’re a Jew, as legend goes, you too–Jews have supposedly been turned off to the whole tent-under-the-stars thing. Except for, maybe, the Israelis. They’re hardy folk. In any case, we were determined. We even invited The Molahses: Mushroomhead, Fennel, and their kids, Carrot and Zucchini, another (sort-of/part-)Jewish family, to join us (Mushroomhead is a “California Jew”; moreover, the Molahses are Northern Californian twig-eating organic vegan hippies–how unJewish is that?? Although I have, in truth, seen a very lovely Magen David atop their Christmas tree . . . But alas, that’s mostly Mushroomhead’s mom’s attempt to put a little Yid in her kid . . .). The Molahses and the Princess-Scientists, geared up with firestarters and new sleeping bags, and just a wee bit of fear: off we went, ready to explore the Canadian Rockies, one of the most glorious places on earth.

Lake O'Hara in Yoho National Park

A brush with wildlife

The Twig-Eating Vegan Hippies in their Hippymobile

On the drive, we're reminded that MAN has moved (part of) the mountain.

Moraine Lake

The Okanagan

Perfect? Glorious? Formidable? Indeed. Despite the rain, despite the near-zero (Celsius) temperatures, despite The Scientist feeling weak from a lack of hardy meat, we were doing awesome. We had successfully camped in Revelstoke, successfully collected our firewood and lit our campfires and toasted our marshmallows (“Do you know you’re eating a horse’s hoof?” 6-year-old Carrot asked 5-year-old LL, to which LL replied, “YUMMMMMMMM.”), successfully slept through the nights in our new cozy sleeping bags (apart from The Scientist, who was either romantically attached to the sleeping bag he used at the religious sleepaway camp he attended as a child–or was disinclined to buy a new one for another reason . . . but a couple of nights in the Canadian Rockies air was enough to send him straight to MEC on our arrival in Victoria, cost irrelevant), successfully hiked and canoed and had, in short, fun.

On The Scientist’s birthday, we were camping in the Okanagan. Cool J woke up, made himself a little mud puddle, and rolled around in it. It was hard to believe he had turned 3 the day before. A 10th percentile boy (up from 3rd!), he was still a little and cuddly and mushy baby. And dirty as hell. I pulled off his sleeper and bedtime diaper and scooped him up to throw him under the shower, two campsites away.

The little piggy about to turn on the faucet and create a mud puddle to roll around in

From the campsite between ours and the shower, I saw a couple sitting on logs, hacking away as they smoked and downed their 4/5 of JD. I paid them little heed–Cool J and I were singing Twinkle Twinkle Little Star together and giggling as we sang–but a few words came my way: “Disgusting . . . what the fuck . . . ” As their discussion went on, it got louder and louder until I heard “NOT EVEN A FUCKING DIAPER!” and I finally realized it was about my child. I turned. “Do you have something to say to me?” I asked. The man: “Yes, you disgusting fucking bitch. How could you let your child be naked? That’s fucking gross.” The woman: “I’m a mother and a fucking good one and I would never fuckin’ leave my kid without a fuckin’ diaper.”  There were more nasty nasty words slung at me (and my child–classy). At first I tried to explain that I was steps from my campsite and his clothes were filthy and I was putting him right in the shower, but the abuse continued. I stopped explaining. I got mad. I threw a few rude words their way. They were, I thought, not half as impressive as those of the ever-so-eloquent couple (drunk at 9am), but they weren’t pretty. They shut up. I felt triumphant. I had rebuked them, and clearly they had lost the battle. Don’t you try to win a wordfight against an English PhD! Yeah! I got you good, you trashy losers! I washed that little baby until he was squeaky clean, and we set off for a day of wineries and water-fun. The sky was threatening, but it didn’t rain. The Scientist’s birthday was a lovely day.

As we pulled up to our campsite in the evening, tired but cheerful, however, the first thing I noticed was the pool of water around our tent. “I guess it rained here,” I said, thinking in terms of microclimates. But how micro was this climate? Had the rain shot out of a single cloud that hovered directly above our cloud, like a laserbeam? It didn’t seem likely. I opened our tent to investigate.

Remember the faucet Cool J had played with? The hose attached to it was hooked into the back of our tent. During our 6-hour absence, the water had been running into our tent, soaking everything we own. Trapped in our tent, sealed tight, the water reached up to our waists. I had won a wordfight. Yet in the language of the trashy assholes–and she a mother!–we had been fucked. I had won a wordfight and lost a giant, fucking war.

Can Jews go camping? Hashem gave us a clear answer–well, Hashem and the human refuse with no sense of the camping code, and little sense of humanity, –which was no. Next time we attempt to camp, perhaps we’ll try the Hilton. Or the Fairmont. There’s always the Fairmont.

To children, all adventures are exciting. Cool J delighted to be spending a night in an RV since everything we owned had essentially drowned.

Baby MoFo and LL bedding down for the night while their mom and dad wring out their belongings

The Banff Springs (a Fairmont): our future campsite

Dear Airline (Hotel, Cruise Line, Restaurant . . . ): I am SHOCKED and APPALLED!

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Transatlantic Redeye: 18-month-old In-Tel throws tantrum when forced to sit for takeoff, gets so worked up that he pukes on his dad, The Indoorsman, as they’re cleared to fly. Hysterical flight attendant aborts takeoff and calls police and paramedics onboard to pressure In-Tel’s family into disembarking. Cop is like, “Lady, this is Newark. We have actual crime.” Paramedics engage the hysterical flight attendant on the difference between spitup and vomit. Eventually, the Indoorsman, his wife, Tel-Aviv, In-Tel, and the rest of the passengers proceed, late.

I wasn’t on the flight, but I can imagine how loved The Indoorsman and Tel Aviv, not to mention their very cute and probably, after many hours in vomit, very stinky, baby, were on that flight. If people like Amnesty resent traveling babies for being loud or kicking chairs, imagine the reaction to babies that cause panic in, seriously delay, and foul the air of a very long trip. Not so good.

So what did The Indoorsman do upon arriving on the other side of the world, smelly, exhausted, and probably riddled with holes burned into him by his fellow passengers‘ eyes?

Well, nothing. After all, he reasoned, the flight attendant had a better chance of getting him banned from flying on her airline than he had of getting her canned.

This, my friends, and my dear Indoorsman, is what my mother would call a goyishe kop (being married to a Yiddishe Mama, Indoorsman, does not necessarily convert you).

Now, I’ve told you a bit about my mother. She was a great teacher. But she was and is, above all else, the queen of the “shocked and appalled” letters. My mother, after every unsatisfactory experience in her life (and believe you me, there were many), sat down and proceeded to write to the manager, cc’ing, as applicable, the Better Business Bureau, the local newspaper, and any other potentially interested party. Thus far, she has received free flights, free meals, free cruises, free hotels, and many, many, many other freebies.

“Dear X,” she writes. “I am shocked and appalled by your treatment of me on my recent visit to your establishment.” Blah blah blah . . . ” And boom! Just because there was some broken glass in her bowl of pasta, a fire on her ship, or perhaps something a little less dramatic–an hour’s wait for a rental car, say, or a dirty look from a cruiseship waiter when she asked for a third entrée–she is suddenly the beneficiary of a generous gift certificate made out in her name.

Ha! And students think that because they’re not going to be academics or journalists, there’s no need for them to learn to write effectively! The art of persuasion is highly remunerative!

It is important to be upfront about what you want. And be firm but not rude. Try: “I am writing to request compensation for . . .” instead of “You bastards owe me.” For the record, realistic requests  (“I would like you to compensate me for the cost of the meal which had a live rat in it”) are more likely to render positive results than unrealistic ones (“Please send me $1,000,000 in unmarked bills.”). Here is a sample letter to an airline. It’s one of mine, and surely inferior to one of my mother’s, but, after all, I am still only a princess.

Good luck with your epistolary endeavors! And remember, you, too, can get a stack of cases of Pepsi arrive (gratis!) at your door if you complain to Pepsi Co. that one of the cans that came in your purchased 24-pack was flat. You, too, can ski the slopes of Jasper or Aspen free after you let them know that on your last visit, your chairlift was stuck for 35 minutes while you hung out (quite literally) in -100 degrees (well, that would be just Jasper, wouldn’t it?).

This isn’t the stuff of Michael Moore, but for you poor princes and princesses out there, it’s good advice, methinks.

Sincerely,

Your very disappointed customer,

Poor Princess

Tip: carefully proofread your letters! They should sound professional!

Once you send your letters, you will receive many letters in return -- it's like having many pen pals (who give you money)

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Sample letter to airline

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Re: Flight #1332 (formerly) on January 16, 2006

Dear Sir/Madam,

I am writing to request compensation for being bumped, mistreated, forced to spend an extra night from home, and missing a day of work.

I would like to briefly share with you my experience on January 16-17, 2006, in order for you to understand why you should offer me remuneration. My flight, AA 1332, was supposed to leave from Miami International Airport to La Guardia, New York, on January 16, at 3:36pm. At 1pm, just before leaving for the airport, I tried to check to see if my flight was leaving on time. I spent fifteen minutes searching the AA.com site, before I finally discovered that my flight number had been mysteriously changed, and the time set back by 6 minutes. I then had to call my car service in New York with the new flight number before I could leave for the airport. Despite these delays, I managed to arrive at the airport over 70 minutes before takeoff.

The lines at the Miami airport were very long, and we were concerned. I took my baby and went to wait in line, while my husband sought an American Airlines representative. We were shuttled from line to line before being sent to the front. At this point, it was about 45 minutes before our flight. When we tried to check-in at the electronic counter, we received the message that it was too late. Surprised, we asked the agent for help. The agent said he would get a supervisor, and then he disappeared. After 15 anxiety-ridden minutes of waiting for his return, and repeated inquiries to other agents, I was very upset. My baby was crying, and an agent threw my suitcases aside to give room for other customers. Finally, an agent said, “OK, I’ll put you on the next flight.” Without asking me for identification (all of which was with my husband, who was searching for a supervisor), he tagged my luggage, whisked it on to the conveyer belt, handed me tickets and rushed me off to a gate clear on the other side of the airport.

Although I was displeased to be leaving an hour later, I collected my husband and we made our way through security. At the gate where our original flight was leaving, I noticed that the flight was just boarding. I told the agent at the gate that we had been on the flight, and he said that because our luggage was on the 4:29 flight, we could not now get on the 3:30 flight. I begged; after all, I had a 7-month old baby who needed to be in his bed by his bedtime or close to it, which would not happen with a later flight, and we had bought tickets for the 3:30 flight. We were turned down, and we went to the gate for the 4:29 flight.

Imagine my surprise when I went to the counter and discovered that I had not—as I had been expressly told—put on the 4:29 flight. I had been put on standby—behind about twenty people! Recall, too, that my luggage had been put on this flight—with my box of diapers, package of baby wipes, containers of baby food, and clothes for the baby. Of course I had a carry-on, with the requisite number of diapers and wipes for a 3-hour flight plus a little extra in case of delay, but I certainly was not carrying an extra day’s worth. I asked to speak to a supervisor, and was presented with Priscilla.

Priscilla was extremely rude. She seemed to find it her personal duty to lecture us about not arriving over 2 hours before domestic flight, to lecture me on my parenting style, to speak to us as though we were morons and to punish us for all our wrong-doings. Although right beside us a woman, who had also been booked on the 3:30 flight, and who was also put on standby for the 4:29 flight, was then put on a 6:15 flight, Priscilla flat out said there were no openings to the entire Northeast from the entire state of Florida for at least 24 hours. Her best offer was for us to buy a $900 ticket for one in order to fly to JFK that night (and then go to La Guardia, to pick up our luggage that was sent without any identification and without us—a clear violation of TSA rules). The other would be left alone still in Miami. Did she imagine my husband would go on without me in order not to miss work the next day and I would stay alone with an infant at the Miami airport all night? Or maybe she imagined that I would go with my baby and search for luggage that had arrived hours earlier at a different airport. And perhaps she felt that a $900.00 ticket would be a minor inconvenience to us. In any case, we declined.

Priscilla’s next suggestion was that we could go standby on the 5:50 flight. When Priscilla stepped away, the agent who had placed the other woman on the 6:15 flight told us that there had been two seats available on that flight (but now there were none). She also apologized for our being shuttled from flight to flight, suggested there was an excellent chance that we would make it on the 5:50 since a connecting flight was running late, and explained that problem we were having was the fault of the airline. I wrote down her exact words: “We booked more people than we have room for on the plane.”

The saga, unfortunately, did not end there. The 5:50 flight was delayed by over an hour, and the connectors easily made their connection. We could not board the flight. We were sent, instead, to a flight leaving at 8:10. We had now been at the airport, running from gate to gate, with a 7-month-old baby in tow, for close to 6 hours. We did not get on the 8:10 flight either.

That flight was our last chance of the night. At this point, we were told to come back the next day (a work day for us both). We had to find a hotel room and pay for it ourselves. Priscilla would not give us a voucher for a hotel. Another agent, however, did help us out in that regard. We were able to pay a reduced rate of $60+tax for a hotel. The voucher clearly states that we received it because American Airlines “sincerely regret[s] the inconvenience you [we] have experienced today as a result of our [American Airlines] off-schedule operation.” I am including a copy of said voucher with this letter.

We arrived at the hotel at 9:45pm and were back at the airport for 6am. My baby, whose system cannot handle such stress and lack of sleep, has been sick since our return—almost two weeks.

The happy ending is that we finally made it home. That process, even on day two, was not quick. First, there was no record of me on any standby list, and we were told to wait in another long line. Then, we both got tickets and went to gate E5 for our flight. At 7:45, our gate was changed to E10. We all moved. At 7:55, our gate was changed to A5—a 28 minute walk. At 8:30, our flight was delayed to 9:15. Then 9:23. Then there was a medical emergency that further delayed us. All in all, it took us about 24 hours to get home.

The delays that occurred on day 2 are ones that I anticipate; they are the normal day-to-day airline annoyances that would never lead me to write to you. The events that led up to day 2, however, were not normal and not acceptable. Between running from gate to gate, depriving my child of sleep, having to buy diapers, wipes, food and a hotel room, and missing a day of work, I think that I am entitled to compensation from American Airlines. I have been a very faithful American Airlines traveler for years (and I travel quite a bit, both for work, and personal vacations). I always opt for American over other airlines, even if the price is a little higher. We are right now in the process of booking two flights—one to Israel for a vacation, and one to Fort Lauderdale for a conference, and I cannot bring myself to book on American, even though it is the most convenient for me. I have never felt as mistreated by an airline as I did on Jan. 16-17. I would like to be completely reimbursed the cost of the ticket and hotel ($260). As well, for my time and difficulties, I believe American Airlines should offer me a $300 voucher toward a ticket to be used at my discretion—standard operating procedure for bumping passengers from flights.

My husband will also be contacting you about this matter. I hope that you will resolve this matter swiftly, and restore our relationship to the happy one it once was, so that we can both return to flying with you.

Sincerely,

Poor Princess

Oh, the Places I’ll (Never) Go!

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Or Not

On my wall hangs a wooden frame. It’s a 4×4–that is, it has room for 16 vertical pictures. The Scientist came home with it around the time that LL was born. He thought we could fill it with pictures of our travels. Specifically, vertical pictures of us kissing on our travels. Over the years, we had amassed quite a collection of kissing pictures, some of which were, conveniently, vertical (they featured the Eiffel Tower, the CN Tower, the Statue of Liberty, Big Ben, and various other upright structures). Some of them were inconveniently, and by their nature, horizontal. I tried to play with them, but here’s what I ended up with:

The White House (can't you tell?)

Hősök tere--without most of its heroes

Who's more important--me or the tower? Can't fit them both!

In the end, despite some very creative cropping, I simply couldn’t fill all 16 blank spaces. “Why don’t you put spacesavers in the remaining ones to indicate where we’ll go next?” asked The Scientist.

“Great idea!” I said.

That was in 2005.

I haven’t changed a thing since. . .

Last week, our Shabbos dinner guests were looking at our 4×4, and the husband, Baseball Dad, pointed at the framed spacesavers inscribed with our dreams: “Great Wall of China,” “The Taj Mahal,” “Machu Picchu.” He smiled. “Are these on loan?” he asked.

We all laughed, but inside I soon stopped laughing. Are our dreams on loan? Oh, I know how dramatic that sounds. But three kids in, one must begin to wonder. When will we make good on our plans to hike the Inca Trail? To spend months in India, feeding ourselves a diet of dal and rice and mango lassis, riding the rails in second class cars, maybe living in an ashram and meditating our days away? When will we have the chance to view the art at the Hermitage? To kayak in Patagonia? To ride a motorcycle across Europe?

At $10,000+/kid for sleepaway camp, I’m thinking that our kids will be spending summers across the street at the rec camp. The wait for the child-free house is two decades away. In 21 years, Baby MoFo will be finishing up at Harvard (or Yale or Princeton or Stanford–I’m not a pushy Yiddishe Mama–whichever he picks is fine by me!). On the plus side, I won’t even be 60 yet. Plenty of time to backpack around the world . . . right? Is there such a thing as a senior citizen hostel? (by that, I don’t mean a cruise . . . ).

*  *          * *             * *        * * * *

A short trip from home, the library is a frequent destination. On our recent visit, Cool J picks the movie Up. He smiles deviously. “You’re going to cry when she dies!” he declares happily. LL finds it distressing when I cry, but Cool J finds it hilarious. That’s why, as I’ve noted, he regularly picks Love You Forever as his bedtime story.

But it’s not just Ellie’s death that’s so sad–it’s also the death of their dream that makes The Scientist and I look at each other and shake our heads gravely, thinking of ourselves. That trip to South America is never made by Ellie and Carl because life kept getting in the way–and they didn’t even have kids!

I’m sure there are parents out there who strap their little ones into their Keltys and see the wonders of Peru, and those who enter the Forbidden City with their Bugaboos. With one kid in tow, we started off to be those parents. With two kids, we were skipping the journeys that put us in cattle cars or squatting in keyhole latrines, but we still whisked the kids off to foreign worlds to taste life beyond North America. But with three kids, we’re too poor, and too worried about mundane things like hygiene and routines, to light out for the territory. I remember once–about 10 years ago–chatting with a high school teacher only a few years my senior, a man who had never owned a passport, had never left the U.S, but who dreamed of visiting the land of Shakespeare, the man whose books he taught year in, year out. “But why don’t you just go?” I demanded. “I have kids,” he said. I’ll never be like that, I thought. But I have a feeling we’re not going to be kissing in front of the Easter Island heads any time soon.

So my dear Theodor Geisel, it surprises me not at all that you had no kids of your own, despite your incredible ability to entertain them. As a parent, the places I go, my children go. And the places I don’t go, neither do my children–at least for the next long while. If I were single–not that I would trade my boys for a swim in Lake Titicaca, a trek in Nepal, or a safari in Kenya–oh, the places I would go! After all, as the childless man told us (those childless among us, that is):

You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.

“You can steer yourself any
direction you choose.”

You’re on your own.
And you know what you know.
And YOU are the guy who’ll
decide where to go.

Baby’s First No? Or Guitar Jerk’s Last Parent-Fans?

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Yesterday, we had one of those glorious days in the City that made me wish I had millions and millions of dollars and could live in a light-filled servant-filled penthouse on Central Park West with a view of the roller skaters, the joggers, the rowboaters, the Bethesda Fountain, and that grand sweep of life that populates the greatest park on earth. The kids would go to Ramaz or Dalton or Trinity or Heschel and after-school activities would include hiking in The Ramble, skating at Wollman Rink, watching world-renowned actors play out the Bard’s works in the open air, taking a ride on the carousel, swimming in Lasker pool, or listening to stories as they perch on Hans Christian Andersen’s brassy foot.

That is not to be. But we can certainly have days in which we imagine that’s our life. Off to the City we traipsed yesterday, for a tram ride to Roosevelt Island followed by an afternoon of free play in Olmstead and Vaux’s masterpiece. The kids ran and rolled around on the grass, turned their Starbucks straws into wands to cast spells on each other, hit each other with big sticks (that part was bad), pretended they were dead for a while (that part was not as bad as you might think), and, when they were tired, they plopped down on their butts and rested their heads, one by one, on their dad, who was only too happy to take the opportunity to lean and loaf at his ease observing a spear of summer grass–or just nap.

The sun shone. The sky was the cerulean blue of dreams. It was 78 and breezy. We got a picnic from Zabars and nibbled on pickled garlic cloves, Greek salad, fresh French baguette, and, for the men, pastrami on rye. We were with our visitors–Mrs. 1950s and her husband the Steel Baron were visiting from Western Canada where it is still snowing (yes, in June) with their 2 kiddies, Gingy and Red.

(Gingy and LL have a history–

Gingy and LL

although I confess since moving to the US, LL has not been perfectly faithful to his preschool sweetheart–

–but more on the romantic escapades of 5 year olds, the kisses blown, the conversations Skyped–later)

We were also joined by Mrs. 1950s sister-of-another-mother, Dr. Aunty. We chatted, we lazed, we went to check out the turtles that raised their heads up to soak in the sun–

and we listened to the Guitar Guy.

The Guitar Guy was good. He smiled and he laughed, and we smiled and we laughed. His mood was infectious. He invited people to skip. He pointed out the movers–those who got up and danced up front, those who danced in their places on the lawn, those who sat on their butts but jiggled or swayed there. We all wanted to be part of it.

Including, of course, the kids. With permission from their parents, our kids, shyly at first, and then more boldly, headed to the dirt-paved “stage” to strut their stuff.

To see them was to love them. They were thrilled, nervously dancing toward and away from the Guitar Guy, the man who made the park come to life, and making up crazy actions that they imagined went along with the music.

And then the music stopped.

The Guitar Guy gestured at the children. “Time for Baby’s first ‘no’?” he asked angrily into his microphone.

We were confused–initially. Baby? What baby? No to what? Surely not to dancing?

“Do these kids have any PARENTS?” he demanded.

And then we got it. It was our kids he was talking about. He didn’t want the children near him. He didn’t want the children dancing. He didn’t want us standing idly by as they did. The “no” was for us to utter to our “babies.” He wanted us to take the children away. IMMEDIATELY.

Or,  in other words, at least as I understand it, the Guitar Guy hates kids. And maybe, consequently, parents, too.

There are stories I could tell you about how I’ve reacted in the past to having my children reprimanded by strangers, having been reprimanded by strangers for reprimanding my children, and having been reprimanded by strangers for not reprimanding my children, but if I do, you might think that I am an insanely ferocious Mama Bear. I’ll just give you a taste: I have been known to chase a stranger down the street because she yelled at me for yelling at my kids for running into the middle of the street. I have been known to yell at a stranger for telling me I’m mean because we were standing in line at the McDonald’s at the mall and my kids decided they wanted not only chocolate milk (which I had agreed to), but also ice cream, fries, and cookies, and I said no (for the record, after my diatribe, I was applauded by the entire staff of the McDonald’s who thought the woman should have minded her own business). I have been known to physically handle a woman who dared to physically handle my child when he wasn’t fast enough going up the escalator (I also reamed her out). I have even been known to “hide” Amnesty, a Facebook friend, for about 2 years because he complained that children–not mine–were noisy on a flight (I believe he said something to the effect of banning children from long-distance flights . . .).

There is little more beautiful, in my humble opinion, then children reveling in a perfect day with sunshine and music, through the sweet rhythmic and ridiculous movements of their little bodies. Maybe there is even something beautiful about the boisterousness of kids on airplanes, kids about to embark on the trips of their lives–to hear foreign languages, learn about different customs, experience new art–though if you see me on a plane with LL running ahead of me, screaming out the numbers of the seats; Cool J whining that he’s THIRSTY and wants a drink NOW; and Baby MoFo, on my hip, crying his little eyes out–I’ll understand (kind of) why you’ll want to sit as far away from me as you possibly can for the duration of the flight.

I hope that one day the Guitar Guy has children (as Amnesty has) and realizes there *might* be times when it is appropriate to speak your mind when you see a parent or child doing something you’re not crazy about (I’m skeptical), but there is also much to appreciate in children who are being just that–children. The laughing, the dancing, the delighting in life.

If I had any inkling that children might be in the Guitar Guy’s future, I would take on the Buddha-like wisdom of my brother-in-law, The Dentist, still (and always to be) one kid and many kid-years ahead of me, and say, as he always says:

“JUST. YOU. WAIT.”

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